Teen Boys at Risk in Webcam Extortion Cases

Head up parents! There are some new crime stats out of the UK that may make you reconsider what kind of risks your teens may encounter online.

The UK National Crime Agency reported this week that cases of webcam extortion for financial gain are up over 100% this year, with 864 reported cases vs. 385 last year, and the year isn’t over yet. We haven’t seen similar statistics reported here in the U.S.

The real eye opener from these numbers (for us) was that in 95% of the reported incidents, the victim was male. The largest population of victims was men aged 21 – 30, but boys between 11 and 20 form a “substantial portion.”

We, and parents we talk to, have assumed that females are more at risk of this type of threat, but these UK statistics tell another story.

The agency implies that normal boy-girl online relationships are not what are driving these numbers. social-media-sleepRather:

  • Professional criminals are posing as available females online in an attempt to lure young men into a relationship
  • Bad actors are posing as gay men online, again attempting to establish an intimate online relationship with a gay man

In either case, the victim is enticed to send a nude video to the perpetrator. The perp then uses the threat of posting that video publicly online, or sending it to the victim’s relatives, friends or even his boss, as a means to extort money.

This isn’t just a UK phenomenon. A Minnesota man was sentenced to 38 years in prison this month after pleading guilty to sextortion in 155 cases involving teenage boys over a four-year period. In some cases he posed as a young girl; in others he claimed to represent a modeling agency.

A spokesperson from the UK’s National Crime Agency describes this as a large global “business” where the bad guys are often overseas and do not feel like they at risk of being caught.

Risk of being exposed or potential financial loss isn’t the only downside here. The UK reports that webcam extortion has led to 4 victims committing suicide.

We didn’t think that catfishing would become a big business, but perhaps it has. The one and only defense against this is to make sure you know, and your teens know – without a shadow of a doubt – who you are talking to online before committing any intimate acts.

 

 

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When High School Athletes Get Catfished

The term “catfish” generally refers to a person online pretending to be someone they aren’t, usually to extract some benefit or to cause embarrassment. Usually it’s a boy/fake girl thing (i.e. the Manti Te’o story), but that’s not always the case.

Check out this Twitter account. It belongs to an upstanding (as far as we can see) high school football player. He’s a senior, and had a very good high school career. We don’t know yet whether he’ll be playing at the college level but he probably would like to.
high-school-catfish
Now check out this Twitter account.Twitter-catfish

This is not the same kid*. It’s someone pretending to be him, and not trying very hard. While the pictures appear to be of the victim, and the account header is the same, the account handle is @notxxx (xxx = victim’s real name) and the first person the fake account holder followed was the victim – a real tipoff.

It’s not bad enough that the victim has someone impersonating him. Some of the fake account’s tweets are filled with foul language, and several of the tweets were vile threats against an organization that supports high school athletes with social media training.

Twitter-threat-1It appears that the fake account was reported to Twitter by a good hearted bystander, so let’s hope it gets taken down before too many people see it, especially any college coaching personnel.

Obviously, there’s an element of bad luck when it comes to this happening to you, but there are a couple of things you can to do play defense before and if it happens.

Be alert – The fake account was created 4 days ago, and as we said above, the first person that the fake account followed on Twitter was the victim. Had the victim been paying attention (maybe he was) to his new followers, he could have seen and reported the imposter (maybe he did). Paying attention to your new followers, even if you don’t follow back, is a good idea. In this case, the victim has 901 followers and has been on Twitter for 1,006 days, so that’s less than one new follower per day. You can stay on top of it.

This probably wasn’t random – It may be that the victim was a needle picked out of a haystack, but it’s more likely that the bad guy here is someone that the victim knows. Not to blame the victim here – we aren’t – but in reputation management, nice guys finish first. Any enemies you accumulate along the way can come back to haunt you. If you beat a team 52 – 0, or beat out another player at your school for a starting spot, it never makes sense to be anything but gracious.

*Is the victim behind this? – We can’t dismiss the chance, however slight, that the victim set up the fake account himself as an attention getting stunt. While that’s probably not the case, we caution everybody that this is a very bad idea. First impressions are very important.

If it happens, report it quickly – Twitter has a form on their site that easily allows users to report imposters, or accounts that were hijacked or otherwise compromised.

Be proactive – Now that the impersonation is going on, the victim can choose to do a number of things.

  1. Tweet out a few times that there is an imposter that is NOT him
  2. If he has been communicating with college reps on Twitter, reach out and inform them of the situation
  3. If the fake accounts harassed other twitter users, the victim can reach out and explain/apologize

Reputations are fragile things and the Wild West that is social media doesn’t make it easy to maintain yours. Be vigilant, and if something happens, act quickly to repair the damage. Don’t bother trying to engage with the imposter; just do what you can to repair your reputation and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.